The Coxcythil eventually wore off, leaving me shuddering and gasping for breath. It’s not an unexpected side effect. I find that I tend to hold my breath when I’m anxious, and while this particular drug takes me to more comfortable fantasy worlds than the cracked plastic volume I’m accustomed to, it’s still one in which the threat of imminent disaster looms large. I guess it’s hard to shake off the fact that I’m stuck in a single room (albeit with an enormous closet), adjoining what amounts to a mummy’s tomb. Ah, there we go. For a moment, in the throes of Coxcythil, I actually escaped you. But you’re back, like always, sealed away behind that crudely welded and barred door. I try not to worry about whether I’m a good welder or not. It’s certainly not in my skill set, and I’ll admit that the medical welding gun wasn’t intended to glue big chunks of metal to doors. More likely it’s for delicate pinning of fractured limbs or melting bone, or whatever it is that surgeons actually do. But it looks OK, and it can take a damn hard tug without giving in the least. I know that even if you did somehow wake from your hibernation, the waterfall of tubes and wires tumbling away from you would make such a racket that I’d know you were coming. And what then? There is another door – of course – what kind of structure has two rooms connected to nothing else at all? It’s not exactly accessible though.
My “living chamber” as opposed to the “not-quite living chamber” adjacent used to lead elsewhere. Now though, I have a pair of once-swinging doors that open out onto the beginning of a corridor, allowing headroom for a metre or so before the ceiling and floor are brutally squeezed together, almost fused where they meet. The crunched walls admit no exit. So if you do get loose, I have a couple of options. I can lock myself into the medicine closet (quick check that the key is, indeed, still in my pocket, sweaty and smooth from impulsive squeezing) and wait for that door to be smashed in, while cramming fistfuls of pills into my mouth, hoping for any kind of escape – mental or physical. Alternatively, I can squeeze past one of the deformed doors leading to the abortive hallway, and perhaps cower behind it before forcing myself, ratlike, into the deepest wedge between floor and ceiling. And then be dragged out… It doesn’t bear thinking about, but of course, I do.
Enough of this maudlin wandering. I’ve got important notes to make about the Coxcythil. I award it the rare note of “escape” on the inside of the pharma cupboard, along with “anxiety” and a big tick. I can’t remember where it took me yesterday, but I’ll happily return to a land of predatory flowers in preference to this one. My heart is still racing, frantic staccato rattle of muscle within my scrawny ribcage. I fancy it’s actually bouncing of the ribs and thumping against the intercostal muscle like a lunatic with a meat drum. I take a spoonful of warm water from the container receiving the whistling grace of the taps. Somewhere there’s a water tank that I’m slowly draining…
My room is a mess. It never escapes a degree of untidiness, but this morning’s tremor has done it more harm than usual. I take the opportunity to re-sort the stacks of freeze-dried rations in to piles of alternating colours. I’ve already done it alphabetically, by flavor, by calorie count, shape and so on, but it’s all just preparation for doing something truly artistic with the little rectangular packages. There are fewer of them, though I’m careful to avoid counting them. I’ve no clock in here, and even the machines in your darkened room give me no track of time, unless I wished to count your breaths or you heartbeat. That’s only a temporary measure of temporal affairs, though. With my sleep cycle so thoroughly knackered by the lack of natural light or objective time, I’ve lost all sense of how long I’ve been here. I can count the empty food wrappers and estimate perhaps one or two per waking period, and therefore a rough sense of how many times I’ve slept… But for what? It’s been difficult to escape the idea that time is important – that’s there’s a thing I should do next. I’ve been wired to be on-mission, on-task, on-schedule for so long that my first few days trapped in here are just a mist of panic. I emerged from that callous to the creep of time. All I’ve got to look forward to is running out of food and water, or you waking up. Since you’re in an involuntary hibernation, it’s unlikely that you’ll wake first. So I guess I’ll be safe. And ultimately, I think that’s why I persist. I desperately want to outlive you. The idea of you finding my withered corpse (once you finally smash through that barred door, after ramming it for hours with the sarcophagus you’ve been entombed in, till my ill-welds finally snap), surrounded by empty food wrappers and pill boxes, is just too much. I’m not sure whether that would mean you’ve “won” in some sense I can’t quite grasp, or whether I’ll have finally escaped you, and therefore “won” myself. I suppose once you’re down to dying being a win, it’s a reflection of the state you find yourself in. I’d rather you not find my body, though. I might have left it, but it’s still the me I’ve been used to for such a long time.
I stretch out the rest of the clean up until I start to get tired again. This is the other time-collapsing aspect. The less I eat, the more easily I wear out and the more I sleep. The more I sleep, the less sense of time passing I have. I keep thinking I’ve escaped time’s tyranny, but I clearly haven’t as it comes back to me again and again. I settle myself back down on the bed, sliding gently on my shiny-textured clothes and sheets. The ceiling is buckled, looks like how I’d imagine the inside of tortoise looks, from the perspective of its heart. Like a big metal ribcage, making me its heart, since I’m the only real living thing here. Is it more buckled than it has been before? So hard to tell. Once it was smooth, pristine and gleaming with the efforts of the nano-cleaning crews that swarmed everywhere, eating the lingering waste of people and powering themselves on to the next sanitation mission. They’re notably absent now, and the cleanliness of the ceiling owes more to having just one resident. Its naturally filth-repellent surface does a decent job, but the webwork of cracks has damaged its integrity and each fracture is fringed with a spreading black. Some kind of mould? I welcome its spores as fellow living things. Maybe I’m not as alone as I think I am.
I wonder if time is passing outside. Is there a sun? I remember our crushing impact, the extraordinary sound, like being inside a drum while someone smashes it against rocks. I was thrown across the medical bay, flipped across the desk I was standing behind, rebounding off the wall. It was a brain-deadening blow, but one that saved my life: tossed head over heels into the pharma closet just as the door automatically sealed itself (a fancy security measure to prevent medicines being launched into empty space) left me in a considerably smaller space to be bounced around as our vessel ground its way to a final stop. When I woke (half of my life is waking), half-buried under those drawers and shelves which had at last given way from my being repeatedly smashed into them, I was badly bruised and definitely concussed, but still mobile and alive. Although the little room was spinning around me, I had the benefit of nearby walls to slide along toward the door, grinding blister packs and bottles underfoot. The spare key for the cupboard sat in its little box on the inside for the last time – even in my dizzied state it went straight into my pocket. Outside the closet, the carnage was even worse. It looked like we must have ended up correctly oriented, since the ceiling was still the ceiling and the floor was the floor. My stumbling was more from smacking my head than anything else. It hurt like a bastard, with the pounding we’d taken continuing in my skull.
I kicked through the paper and junk littering the room, fighting my body’s urge to vomit and fall sideways. The intensive care unit was closed tight – the auto-seals got to that one quickly enough. One of the doors leading out into the rest of the hospital section was turned out into the corridor, the other apparently jammed closed. It was only as I stepped up to the shut door that I saw you. You were hanging, impaled on a spar of doorframe from where the door had been splintered by our crash. The frame stuck out from your ribs, like you’d been successfully fished for and were being dangled ready for throwing back, bleeding, into the river. The same blow that had thrown me into a closet had granted you no such safety. Bleeding from a dozen places, you’d clearly been battered around the room and finally slammed into this broken door. Despite the headache and wooziness, the sight of you sent an immediate flush of relief through me. It quite washed my headache away for an instant. I was free. I sank down on the floor, hands over my mouth as the first enormous sob of relief escaped me.